Introduction: Hamster Wheel Standing Desk

About: Robb was once an Artist-in-Residence at Autodesk's Pier 9. they went to Carnegie Mellon to study Art. they mostly do tangible artifacts that are often complex. they can be reached at

You are not reaching your current productivity potential. Numerous esteemed experts agree that standing is better than sitting and that walking is better than standing. Despite this, your workplace only provides inhumane chairs and stagnant standing desks for you to use while you struggle to get through a workday full of distractions and bodily pains.

Rise up, sedentary sentients, and unleash that untapped potential within by marching endlessly towards a brilliant future of focused work. Step forward into a world of infinite potential, bounded only by the smooth arcs of a wheel. Step forward into the Hamster Wheel Standing Desk that will usher in a new era of unprecedented productivity.

This project is a collaboration at Pier 9 between Artist-in-Residence RobbGodshaw and artist Will Doenlen. Thanks to Vanessa Sigurdson, Gabe Patin, Oliver Kreitman, and Bilal Ghalib for helping out in the wee hours of the morning!

Step 1: Design Your Wheel

Things that are made to fit people are subject to lots of careful consideration. Ergonomics and safety are very important to any furniture project.

We considered adding in brakes but decided against it in order to really force the productivity out of the desk user. In the end, we decided on a wheel 80" in diameter that would be supported by a 24" wide base that contained a set of four skateboard wheels on which the wheel would rest. This design allows fluid rotation without requiring an axle for the wheel.

We already had a standing desk that fit through the wheel, so it was just a matter of avoiding interference and leaving enough room for a human.

The wheel was designed using Autodesk Inventor over the course of a few hours. This allowed for a parametric design, where the diameter, width, and number of slats could be changed easily. We imported a human model from GrabCad to check clearances, and measured every door at Pier 9 to ensure it could leave the building.

See attached files. This project was completed with 24 hours, and the files are somewhat lazy.

This project requires 4 sheets of ¾" Plywood, 4 skate wheels, 2 pipes, 240 wood screws, a pint of glue, and a good attitude.

Step 2: Cut the Wood: Waterjet

This project could certainly be completed with ordinary power tools and craftsmanship. The arc pieces are the hardest to make, as their precision is key to smooth operation of the wheel. A carefully measured string used as a compass could be used to draw the arcs on a piece of plywood, which could be cut with a jigsaw. A hand router with a template and a trim-bit would make duplication fairly straight forward. We both work at Instructables HQ at Autodesk's Pier 9, and have access to a large OMAX waterjet cutter. A computer controlled machine that uses a high pressure waterjet to cut through any material, so long as it is less than 6" thick. Wood, any metal, glass, stone, any shape, any material. You might think it crazy to cut wood with water, but it saved us many hours of jig-making and saved a lot of wood because we could nest the parts within 1/8" of each other. Plus, the precision made for smooth rolling and perfect registration of the stacked pieces upon assembly.

We cut the arcs from four sheets of plywood. We filled whatever unused space we had with slats to be used for steps on the hamster wheel but cut most of the rectangular slats by table saw.

Step 3: Cut the Wood: by Hand

We used a table saw and chop saw to cut out the remaining slats of wood used to span the two rings of the wheel. There are sixty something slats in total. We used plywood because we had it on hand. 1"x6" pine would work great and look better, but cost more.

We cut the curved stand pieces with a jigsaw following a stencil we printed in sections. (Not pictured) Acrobat Reader can print the attached pdf as tiled pages. The precision is only important for the hole spacing and the distance from the axel to the ground. The slight arc on the base prevents rocking on slightly uneven terrain.

Step 4: Lay Out the Rings

The wheel consists of two wheel rings with some 60-odd plywood slats between the rims. Each ring consists of two sets of circular plywood layers, but since the plywood wasn't big enough to cut out an entire layer at once we divided the layers into thirds and then laid out each layer as shown. So, the hierarchy goes a little like this:

One wheel = 2 rings

One ring = 2 layers

One layer = 3 arcs, each ⅓ of a ring layer. (120° each)

Each arc had 4 radially spaced ¼" holes to aid in line-up and fastening of the layers.

Step 5: Glue Up the Rings

We then glued the layers of each ring together, staggering the two layers by 60° to maximize overlap and stability. Wood glue, when properly applied, can be stronger than wood itself. Initial clamping was done with ¼"-20 cap screws and T-nuts, followed by about 20 clamps. Glue was wiggled out liberally, spread with a piece of paper, then clamped to kingdom come. A sign of a good glue-up is squeeze-out, a small amount of glue emerging along the glue seam indicating complete dispersion of glue.

Step 6: Build the Base

The base consists of two large, hot-dog shaped pieces of wood, each of which hold two skateboard wheels.

The two plates are held together with tie-rods and steel pipes. 5/16" threaded rods inside the pipe pull the plywood sides together, while the pipes themselves keep them apart. The diameter of the pipe prevents skewing, and allows the base to be stable and svelte. The length of the pipe is key, and had to be changed a few times. Too short and the wheel won't spin, and to long and it wiggles too much. A very shallow and large hole the diameter of the pipe must be drilled in the wood to keep the rod near the center of the pipe. If the rod shifts, the plates will skew. There is no good reason why we didn't just use a 4"x4" piece of lumber and some wood screws, or any other easier method.

The skateboard wheels were attached to the base using 5/16 cap screws with two fender washers and two locknuts. As shown in the image, the first locknut should be super-tight, and the second a bit loose to avoid damage to the skate wheel. We tried placing a Delrin(plastic) disk in between each skateboard wheel and the wooden base to reduce friction between wooden rings and the wooden base, but ended up removing them to no effect.

Step 7: Test the Base

Once the base was assembled, we tested out the action of the rings on the base to ensure they spun freely and didn't hit the pipes or catch on jagged edges. Resist the urge to use the ring as a Cyr Wheel, it will not end well.

Step 8: Attach the Slats to the Rings

Satisfied that the rings could spin on the base, we then screwed the slats onto the rings of the wheel. This part was tricky -- we had to redo it several times since we found the distance between the two rings of the wheel would creep upwards or downwards as we attached more and more slats. The solution was to screw in a couple of pioneer slats at strategic 90° intervals along the rings in order to maintain a fixed distance between the rings as we attached the slats.

In addition to being tricky, this part was also time, labor, and material intensive -- it took five of us working together several hours. We went through ~250 screws total, or about every screw we could find in the wood shop.

Step 9: Secondary Use As Wheel of Death or Bench

Having a human sized cylinder turns out to be versatile. Without the base, the wheel is a dangerous dizzying alternative to a Segway. See above, partially traversing the San Francisco Bay Trail on this novel contraption.

It also makes for a uncomfortable bench for sitting around discarded giant wooden telephone wire spools.

Step 10: Reflections


The Wheel was featured on a few blogs and publications. Including FastCompany, The Daily Mail, Huffington Post, Cnet, and the home page of Yahoo!.

San Francisco Magazine wrote a very thorough 5-page article about the wheel, Seen above in print.

It was the Answer to a limerick on NPR's "Wait wait... Don't tell me"

The wheel and I were featured on The Queen Latifah Show in October.

And also featured on the daytime talk show "The Doctors".

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